WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush on Friday chose an advocate for seniors who worked alongside Mother Teresa for more than a decade to lead his office of faith-based initiatives.
Bush announced the appointment of Jim Towey to head the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which helps provide funding to religious organizations, during a ceremony in the White House's Roosevelt Room.
Towey would bring a "servant's heart" to the job, Bush said.
An attorney, Towey succeeds John J. DiIulio Jr., who resigned last fall from the post. Towey founded the senior advocacy group Aging with Dignity in 1996 and served as Florida's director of health and rehabilitative serves under Gov. Lawton Chiles. He also spent more than 10 years working with Mother Teresa.
"Since the attacks of Sept. 11 it has become obvious to everyone how essential the community and faith-based groups are to the well-being of our nation. They have saved lives. They provide hope. They have helped heal the nation's wounds," Bush said.
Of Towey, Bush said: "He understands there are things more important than political parties, and one of those things more important than political parties is helping to heal the nation's soul."
"It's been my privilege to work with the poor and see first-hand the difference that charities and faith-based organizations can make in their lives," said Towey. He said Mother Teresa, who served the poor of Calcutta, India, introduced him to the job that comes from befriending those in need and discovering their tremendous dignity.
The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is charged with linking religious groups and organizations with federal taxpayer dollars to run social programs such as homeless shelters, drug treatment programs and mental health services.
The Bush administration proposal on faith-based programs seeks to eliminate federal barriers to using faith groups as overseers of social programs. It would identify and eliminate what it identifies as improper federal barriers to faith-based and community programs through reforms of agency laws and regulations, by stimulating private donations by expanding tax deductions and by expanding after-school and literacy services to help children of prisoners and support other people in need.
Groups receiving federal money would be subject to performance standards, civil rights laws and audits, just like secular groups receiving government funds. But how the government plans to enforce a definitive separation of church and state remains murky.
Conservative religious leaders such as Pat Robertson, many of whom supported Bush during the election campaign last year, have expressed concern that fringe religious organizations might apply for and receive federal monies. They have also echoed the concern of many liberals that the initiative might provide a license from government interference in church affairs.